By Sam Sokol
“If circumstances force him to leave the beis ha’midrash and seek a livelihood, he will do so against his will and not proudly declare that he is ‘a working chareidi.’ His career is no source of pride for him, and he will continue to raise his children to the ideal of remaining within the four cubits of Torah” (Yated Ne’eman editorial, 2012).
Last year, the Yated Ne’eman newspaper, the mouthpiece of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel, published an editorial in which it was baldly stated that the ideal for a Jewish man is to learn and not to work. There is a sense among many in the non-chassidic Ashkenazi “yeshiva world” in Israel that kollel study is the ideal and that working for a living is strictly to be done if there is no alternative. The implication seems to be that one cannot learn properly while working.
Leaving aside the Tannaim, Amoraim, and Acharonim who all worked at trades, let us consider a contemporary scholar whose latest work, Shut HaShulchani, strives to show the beauty of halachah as explained by a working man.
Rabbi Ari Enkin is the Bet Shemesh-based author of a popular set of halachah sefarim called the Dalet Amos series. Despite being offered a pulpit, Enkin chose to work as a money changer rather than accept a rabbinic position.
It is between customers that Enkin writes all of his sefarim. “Shulchani” is the Aramaic word for “money changer,” he says, thus the name of his latest book.
I personally find Enkin to be an inspiration, especially living in a city that has become the center of the anti-chareidi soldier Chardak campaign. As if to show the extremists that one can live a Torah life and become a scholar while working, and perhaps even due to intensive engagement with the outside world, Enkin’s books have given me hope for the future.
“I think you see from my sefarim I manage to write at work, but more importantly I just don’t waste any time,” Enkin tells the Five Towns Jewish Times. The message of his books, he says, is that you can learn Torah no matter how much or how little time you have, if you just have dedication.
“The message I give out to others is that the most important thing with the amount of learning you do is not to waste any time. Every free moment you have you should use and enjoy—ideally Torah learning where appropriate—but in any event not to waste time is the most important lesson over here. And in my case, I use my free time for Torah, for writing my Torah sefarim.”
“Free time for me means between customers, before work, after work. I’m always carrying around a pad and paper, I use my laptop computer and every free moment I may have, wherever I may be, I use it for my learning and for my writing.”
“A person can achieve a lot perhaps even more the way you are using your free time.”
That seems to be true of many in Bet Shemesh’s Anglo community.
I recall visiting a beit midrash belonging to the extremist Sicarii sect, the same group that attacked little girls in Bet Shemesh last year for dressing “immodestly.” Arriving during the evening I found only one man learning.
However, leaving that “bastion of Torah” and coming to the more moderate neighborhood of Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph, I found batei midrash filled with ba’alei batim shteiging away and learning way into the night, despite full days of work.
It is for this community, and not just for those who learn full-time, that Enkin says his book is aimed. “I feel that the English halachah sefarim today are lacking objectivity, they are lacking intellectual honesty, they do not quote all the legitimate opinions that exist and that’s what I want to do,” he says.
“I want to teach halachah and expose people; that’s my priority, my primary purpose—to expose people to the many different halachic views that exist on every single topic. I try to find topics that are not dealt with in sefarim, and on those topics I share all the interesting factoids, tidbits, halachic rulings that the more perhaps normative sefarim simply do not quote.”
Being neither a meikil nor a machmir, he says, allows him to examine “what I believe the halachah wants us to do.”
Depending on the topic, Enkin has been either very stringent—coming out against mezonot rolls as a halachic dodge—or modern, joking that G‑d must vote for the national religious party.
“My message is that there is more out there to learn in halachah. Halachah is very beautiful and enjoyable. It is practical and can bring a person closer to G‑d. It brings a person to better discipline and behavior and refined middot, and I think I teach halachah in a way that did not exist yet,” he says.
All I know is that his example, in a neighborhood where extremists battle moderates over the future of chareidi Judaism and which has been a symbol for secular Israelis for the battle between extremism and moderation, can only be a good thing. That’s why I love to stop by the money changers and say hello to the rabbi who will break a dollar and write a chiddush only seconds later. v